The Philly Pho Fare: Trip Planning
Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge Terminal 4 SIN
Vietnam Airlines A321 Economy SIN-HAN
Qatar Airways B77W Business Class HAN-DOH
Qatar Airways A350 Business Class DOH-PHL
Aloft Philadelphia Downtown
British Airways Business Class Lounge PHL
Qatar Airways A350 Business Class PHL-DOH
Qatar Airways Arrivals Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways Complimentary Doha Stopover Package (Westin Doha)
Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Class Lounge DOH
Vietnam Airlines Business Class Lounge HAN
Silk Air B737 Business Class HAN-SIN
Ah, British Airways. You gotta hand it to Alex Cruz. When he’s not wearing a hi-vis jacket in an operations centre or implementing a buy on board menu in coach, he’s ensuring that British Airways will soon have the distinct honor of being the only LCC with a first class cabin.
I have yet to make my maiden British Airways flight, but if my experience at their lounge in PHL is anything to go by, I think I’ll delay that as long as I can.
Let’s first start with the Qatar Airways check-in process, which was fairly standard. Qatar operates out of Terminal A East at PHL (all international flights are out of Terminal A). The terminal was almost empty when I arrived at 7am for my 9.40am departure. You can see how PHL is decked out for Christmas already.
There was no queue at all at the priority check-in desk (or the economy class desks for that matter)
The only interesting issue that came up was when I requested to short check my bags to Doha. I have a 20 hour layover there when I’m going to leave the airport and head to a hotel, so I wanted my toiletries and clothes with me. The counter staff said it was against policy to short check, but in the end they agreed to do so because I only needed to short check one bag- the other (with shopping and stuff I didn’t need during my layover) would go straight to Hanoi.
I chatted with the staff about this policy and it turns out Qatar’s actively aware of throwaway ticketing tactics being used by some customers and this short check policy is to prevent it from happening. Since I was only short checking one of my bags they agreed I wasn’t a “throwaway risk”, but mentioned that as a matter of policy they wouldn’t do it for other customers. So it’s not a system limitation or anything like that, in case you’re wondering about the future.
Once I was checked-in, I headed up the escalator near the counter
And promptly ran into one of the slowest moving TSA checkpoints I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t that the line was long, it was that the screening was incredibly slow. Qatar does not participate in PreCheck and there’s no expedited security line for First and Business class passengers here, so it’s first come first serve.
After a 40 minute wait (and there were only 15 people ahead of me in line!) I was finally through and promptly sought out the only lounge option available- the British Airways Galleries Lounge. There are actually two lounges in PHL’s Terminal A. However, the American Airlines lounge is currently closed for refurbishment as they prepare to launch the new and improved Flagship Lounge in late 2018 (I’ve visited a refurbished Flagship Lounge in JFK and the experience is excellent). This leaves passengers with the British Airways Galleries Club.
The lounge is directly after the TSA checkpoint and has a Qatar Airways welcome sign outside, almost as if to remind passengers that yes, this is a real lounge!
British Airways actually only operates one daily flight from PHL to LHR (with a further two codeshares operated by AA), so on first glance it’s a bit of a strange decision why they’d operate a dedicated lounge here.
It seems that they’re justifying the cost by serving as the contract lounge for other oneworld carriers flying out of PHL. Qatar Airways, I imagine, is paying BA to use its lounge during the morning period when QR728 departs (all the BA + codeshare flights depart in the evening). The counter staff who scanned my boarding pass was wearing the Qatar uniform.
I’m not sure how much of this is because Qatar isn’t paying BA enough and how much is the Curse of the Cruz™, but this lounge was dismal.
There’s certainly enough space to sit, given that Qatar’s A350 only has 36 business class passengers at most and this flight was about half full. I lamented the lack of any “real” chairs (as I grow older I find the benefits of lumbar support to far outweigh the aesthetics of chairs that look nice but make your arm go numb after a while) but otherwise, space is more than adequate.
There’s even a separate cordoned-off dine on demand area. A sign posted outside said it opened from 4pm for British Airways customers.
Speaking of dining, here’s the Alex Cruz Buffet™.
It starts and ends with fruit, yogurt, cold cuts, cheese and cereal.
Oh, there was also a secondary counter with hard liquor and some bread items.
A solitary pot at the end of this counter held a vague promise of some hot food, but upon closer inspection turned out to be an empty void.
I thought it was ridiculous that there was not a single hot option available for passengers in this lounge. Again, I don’t know what BA’s set up is when the lounge actually caters for their passengers in the evening, but regardless this is something Qatar needs to sort out with BA, and fast.
It was so dismal I was actually contemplating checking out the new AMEX Centurion Lounge in PHL and paying the US$50 entrance fee that applies to non-Platinum cardholders, but apparently access to the Centurion Lounges is now limited only to Centurion and Platinum cardholders. That’s a real shame because the Centurion Lounges look really sweet. Not sweet enough to make me want to pay the Platinum card’s annual fee, but still.
Boarding couldn’t come soon enough and mercifully, it was soon time to head to the gate.